Ex-Rams Running Back Lawrence Phillips Dies After Being Found Unresponsive in Prison Cell

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Running back Lawrence Phillips of the St. Louis Rams is shown Oct. 27, 1996, during the Rams 37-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore. (Credit: Otto Greule /Allsport)

Running back Lawrence Phillips of the St. Louis Rams is shown Oct. 27, 1996, during the Rams 37-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore. (Credit: Otto Greule /Allsport)

Former St. Louis Rams running back Lawrence Philips died after being found unresponsive in a Kern County prison cell early Wednesday morning, and authorities believed he took his own life. He was 40 years old.

Staff at the Kern Valley State Prison in Delano were conducting security checks about 12:05 a.m. when they discovered the former NFL player unresponsive in his cell, according to a news release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

He was rushed to an outside hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly before 1:30 a.m., the release stated.

The case was being investigated as a suspected suicide, prison officials said. They did not disclose information on how he died.

A brief news release from the Kern County sheriff-coroner added only that Phillips was pronounced dead at the Delano Regional Medical Center emergency room.

A postmortem examination to determine the cause and manner of Phillips’ death was scheduled for Friday, stated the sheriff’s release, which did not refer to suicide.

Phillips killed a cellmate last April, prison officials told the Los Angeles Times at that time. He had been in an Administrative Segregation Unit on a single-cell status since April 11, when he was suspected in the case.

The victim was 37-year-old Damion Soward, who was serving time for the murder of a rival gang member.

Phillips was charged with Soward’s strangulation death in September, the Times reported, citing the Kern County District Attorney’s Office.

At the time of his death, he was on trial for the homicide, according to the state corrections department’s release.

Phillips grew up in the foster care system in Los Angeles and then went to play football at University of Nebraska, where he was accused of bashing his girlfriend’s head into a mailbox after catching her in bed with the quarterback, the Times reported.

Phillips was the sixth overall draft pick by the Rams in the 1996 NFL Draft following a standout career with the Cornhuskers, during which time he helped the team win back-to-back national championships.

Shortly after being drafted, Phillips was stopped for alleged drunken driving on the Pomona Freeway in 1996, according to the newspaper. A series of other violent incidents followed.

He played for three teams — the Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins — during his brief NFL career, which was plagued by off the field legal problems. The running back also had stints in NFL Europe, and the Canadian and Arena football leagues during his professional career.

Phillips had been in prison since 2008. He was serving a 31-year sentence for “inflicting great bodily injury involving domestic violence, corporal injury to a spouse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft,” the release stated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, originally posted by the Los Angeles Times, incorrectly stated where Phillips died. He was found unresponsive in his jail cell and was declared dead at a hospital.